MOUNT CARMEL, Ill. -- When Mount Carmel faced Mount Vernon (Ind.) in the Carmi-White County Invitational the Aces just didn't look like themselves. They struggled against the Wildcats in the first half and trailed 29-25 at the break in an effort that likely frustrated Mount Carmel head coach Tyler Buss at times.
They went on to win the game 69-57, but it wasn't the Aces' best showing against a team with just one victory.
Any resemblance of that game was gone in the second meeting between the two teams. Mount Carmel hosted the Wildcats this time and dominated them from start to finish in their 64-34 victory over Mount Vernon on Tuesday night at the Hilltop.
The night began with Mount Carmel presenting senior Austin Rager with a ball to commemmorate his eclipsing of the 1,500 point mark in his career as an Ace. Rager was joined by his coach at midcourt and was met with a standing ovation for his accomplishment.
With festivities over, Rager and the Aces came out with a tremendous amount of energy and forced numerous steals to create transition opportunities. With Mount Carmel up 12-7, junior Aden Gill knocked down a 3-pointer to start a 10-0 run for the Aces. Gill and Rager each contributed five points through the course of the run, highlighted by a thunderous one-handed transition dunk by Rager.
"I thought we came out and did a nice job early of being active with our hands," coach Buss said. "We knew defensively if we could put a little heat on them that we could force some turnovers. I thought we got a lot of hands on balls in that first quarter, kind of let us get out and run in transition."
Mount Vernon silenced the Aces run with a pair of free throws but Mount Carmel streaked out to a 9-0 run and took a 31-9 lead with just under three minutes remaining in the half on a 3-pointer by senior Bret Doan. The Wildcats narrowed the deficit to 33-17 in the remaining three minutes, but it was all Aces in the first half.
The Aces opened the second half with active hands and with a nice spark from senior Luke Gould. Gould scored eight straight points in less than a minute for the Aces before picking up his third foul with 5:19 remaining in the third quarter and coming out of the game.
"We're such a different team to guard when he's making shots," coach Buss spoke of Gould. "If we're getting two or three 3-pointers a game from him we become a really tough guard at that point. He did a nice job there, got in a little foul trouble, I know he was frustrated. He can knock down shots when he gets his feet set and ready to go and I thought he did a good job of that tonight."
Rager picked up where Gould left off, scoring five straight points, including two fastbreak transition opportunities to increase the lead to 46-22. Many of the transition opportunities in the game were caused by steals and breaking the Mount Vernon press -- both a nice sight for coach Buss.
When the dust settled at the end of the third quarter the Aces were ahead 56-27 and the game was well over. The Aces coasted the remainder of the game with their reserves in.
It was a tremendous showing from sophomore Kaleb Applebey as well. The sophomore big had battled some foul trouble in recent games but stayed out of it tonight, controlled the glass, scored 13 points and swatted several Wildcat shots.
"He did a really good job of backing down and he's been a lot more patient on his post moves," coach Buss spoke of Applebey. "We keep reminding him how big, strong and talented he is. He doesn't have to rush it up there, get strong, get solid and go up through people and I thought he did a good job of that tonight."
Rager led all scorers with 20 points for Mount Carmel and was joined in double-digits by Applebey's 13. Gould and sophomore Beau Stipp scored eight points and seven points respectively to complement the tandem. Mount Vernon was led by Sam Thomas' 18 points.
The Aces (12-12) got back to .500 with the victory and will have an opportunity to eclipse the mark for the first time this season if they defeat Jasper on Friday at the Hilltop.
Jasper (11-7) enters the game riding a three-game losing streak, but all three were to powerhouse Indiana schools, Heritage Hills (18-1), Barr-Reeve (20-3), and New Albany (11-9) who had McDonald's All-American and Indiana Hoosier Romeo Langford last season. Perhaps the stretch has demoralized the Wildcats, but it's not a game to take lightly, especially as a Big Eight Conference game.
"They're on a really tough stretch of games right now," coach Buss spoke of Jasper. "Getting some of the film work of late, they've kind of went through a murderers row of type of stretch with some of their games and some of their teams. It's definitely no easy task, they're a very talented ballclub, well-coached. Coach Goebel has been as consistent as there's been since I've been in the Big Eight, we know we'll have our hands full. It's a Friday night home game at the Hilltop, where else would you rather be. Hopefully we'll have a nice crowd and can come out and play well."
Tip-off for the game on Friday is slated for following the conclusion of the JV game, which starts at 5:30 p.m.
MC -- 21 12 23 8 -- 64
MV -- 7 10 10 7 -- 34
Mount Carmel scoring: Rager 7 6 20, Applebey 4 5 13, Gould 3 0 8, Stipp 3 0 7, Gill 2 0 5, Martin 2 1 5, Doan 1 0 3, Sutton 1 0 3.